Zoe Quinn’s game Depression Quest may have only recently launched on Steam (despite facing extreme harassment during the Steam Greenlight process), but it has been available to play for free on the internet since late 2013, which is when I made my first play through.
Since this game deals with themes of depression, it’s particularly important to note what state of mind I was in when I encountered this game. In December, 2013 I was working at a publishing company that months later would lay off my entire department and outsource it to the Philippines. I actually quit this job before getting purged, because the job, along with a difficult living situation, led to the slow unraveling of my mind. For the first time in my life I actively sought help for my mind…and for the second time in my life was diagnosed with depression.
Prior to my spectacular mental downfall, I played Depression Quest on a whim, to try to sort out out what this whole depression thing was about. On the game’s homepage, the developers share a brief description of the game;
This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.
Against a murky grey background, the game begins with a brief description of depression, some useful links for where to find help, and then you begin, immersing yourself in the story of a normal person suffering from depression.
As I made choices about the player character’s life, I made sure to choose the options I knew would be most beneficial for the fictional character. I may not have sought help for my moods in the past, but I intellectually knew what steps one was supposed to take to treat mental disorders. I forced the player character to attempt social interaction, even though I knew she probably didn’t want to go, I forced the player character to be honest with her significant other and family about the severity of feelings she was experiencing. I even force her to seek therapy, and start taking anti-depressants, all steps I had never taken but logically knew would improve the player character’s (and my own) life.
Things seem to get slightly better for the character. By the end of the game, she’s still not able to use options that might be available to a non-depressed person (one of the brilliant bit of the game is having the options available for the player to read, but unable for them to implement) but through openness, honestly, and a willing to accept and seek help the player character’s life has significantly improved.
Unfortunately, as my own personal story attests to, even those options aren’t always available to someone in a deep depression, and the game shows the darker side of the disease as well. Playing more truthfully to my own emotional state, I gradually made the player character’s life much worse, shutting off the majority of her options and letting the majority of her relationships completely deteriorate.
Depression Quest‘s ability to portray the ups and downs of depression are both its best and worst elements. The game is able to depict the best and worst case scenarios of the mental disease without being able to demonstrate the realm of nuances in between. As an introduction to depression, for those suffering from it and those looking to understand it better, the game functions very well. But for those seeking a deeper understanding can only begin to scratch the surface.
Still, when I finally broke down and sought help for my own problems, I was appreciative that I had already gone through a simulation of the process. Depression may be a different beast for everyone that suffers from it, but some days it’s legitimately nice to know you aren’t the only one.